USB4 = USB 3.x + Thunderbolt 3

Posted on March 5, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware with 30 Comments

MacBook Pro is all USB-C/Thunderbolt 3

The USB Promoter Group said that it will incorporate Thunderbolt 3 capabilities into its USB4 specification. Which you just know will have stupid marketing name like “Super-Duper High-Speed USB.” Because USB Promoter Group.

“The primary goal of USB is to deliver the best user experience combining data, display and power delivery over a user-friendly and robust cable and connector solution,” said USB Promoter Group Chairman Brad Saunders, ignoring the fact that the primary problem with USB is that it is confusing and decidedly non-user-friendly. “The USB4 solution specifically tailors bus operation to further enhance this experience by optimizing the blend of data and display over a single connection and enabling the further doubling of performance.”

As you may know—I recounted the awful details recently in USB Couldn’t Be More Screwed Up (Premium)—USB is a confusing mess, and the USB Promoter Group just made it even more confusing with USB 3.2. Sorry, with SuperSpeed USB 20Gbp, as it will stupidly be called. The goal with that version is to double the effective data transfer speed of USB 3.x to 20 Gbps.

And the problem with that effort, of course, is that Thunderbolt 3—which, confusingly, is delivered via some but not all Type-C ports—is still twice as fast, at 40 Gbps. So the USB Promoter Group will eventually solve the problem by just incorporating Thunderbolt 3 and its 40 Gbps transfer speeds into the USB4 spec. Which again will absolutely be called something else whenever it arrives.

This begs a number of questions, the most obvious of which is, why even bother with USB 3.2? Why not just jump right to USB4? After all, Thunderbolt 3 has been available for years, and adding yet another type of USB with its own weird and unique capabilities will just further confuse an already confused market. (Also, why is it called USB4, and not USB 4 or USB 4.0?)

The USB Promoter Group has no answer to that. Because, again, USB Promoter Group.

 

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Comments (30)

30 responses to “USB4 = USB 3.x + Thunderbolt 3”

  1. dstrauss

    Maybe because Apple is not yet ready for USB4 on it's iPad Pro line, much less Microsoft on Surface devices?


    Or better still, maybe this is Intel's attempt to release a royalty free TB3 that works only on Core chipsets - cutting out WOA and Apple's rumored move to AXX based MacBooks?

  2. sharpsone

    Just bump it up to USB 10, that will solve all the problems and make everyone happy

  3. justme

    How fast will USB4 go?


    Lightspeed? Nope

    Ridiculous speed? Nope

    Ludicrous speed? Nope


    Ladies and gentlemen, its going plaid!


  4. wright_is

    Paul, Thunderbolt still requires additional, free PCIe lanes, which is one reason why you can't have Thunderbolt on all USB-C ports. It is also superfluous on many connections. Plugging in a keyboard, mouse or scanner doesn't need Thunderbolt, as you cannot type at 40gbps or push paper that fast through a scanner or printer - and in fact, it would cause more security risks if they were connected with Thunderbolt.

    The other thing is, Thunderbolt is a DMA technology, so it directly addresses memory, whereas USB does not. This has a lot of security implications - just like Firewire did.

    If you don't absolutely need DMA, you should not use it, as it provides an additional attack vector.

    For example, plugging in an "unknown" USB-stick (E.g. from a friend or colleague, or a "new" stick) into a USB port is risky enough, but if it is also a DMA port, you have a whole different set of problems, if it is malicious.

    Having some ports with and some without Thunderbolt is, in fact, very sensible. More sensible would have been to have had a different shaped port to begin with.

    • ivarh

      In reply to wright_is:

      Apple have solved this (or cheeped out depending on your views of apple :) ) by having 2 thunderbolt 3 busses in their 4 port MacBook pros. This means they use 8 pci lanes. They do however say little about this so if you dont use the system information application you risk putting your EGPU on the same bus as your external PCI/NVMe ssd killing your performance. (There is one TB bus on each side so don't use both plugs on the same side for high speed TB devices).


      As long as you do what apple does you can easily have TB on all your USB-C plugs. Just divide them up in groups sharing the same TB bus. In my opinion that's a much better solution than having some plugs supporting TB and some only USB-C


      Also as long as you use the IOMMU like apple is doing and Microsoft is doing on win10 enterprise (only!) thunderbolt does not need to be a security problem.


      Here is how the thunderbolt ports look on my MacBook pro:

      Thunderbolt:


        Thunderbolt Bus 1:


         Vendor Name: Apple Inc.

         Device Name: MacBook Pro

         UID: 0x0001CB20D8B9D501

         Route String: 0

         Firmware Version: 34.6

         Domain UUID: F53AD3C7-E7C1-6A53-AF95-C22E42324EE3

         Port:

           Status: No device connected

           Link Status: 0x7

           Speed: Up to 40 Gb/s x1

           Current Link Width: 0x1

           Receptacle: 4

           Link Controller Firmware Version: 0.97.0

         Port:

           Status: Device connected

           Link Status: 0x2

           Speed: Up to 40 Gb/s x1

           Current Link Width: 0x2

           Receptacle: 3

           Cable Firmware Version: 0.9.0

           Link Controller Firmware Version: 0.97.0


          Thunderbolt 3 Dock:


           Vendor Name: Other World Computing

           Device Name: Thunderbolt 3 Dock

           Vendor ID: 0x5A

           Device ID: 0xDE21

           Device Revision: 0x1

           UID: 0x005A6A014D21D700

           Route String: 3

           Firmware Version: 35.1

           Port (Upstream):

             Status: Device connected

             Link Status: 0x2

             Speed: Up to 40 Gb/s x1

             Current Link Width: 0x2

             Cable Firmware Version: 0.9.0

             Link Controller Firmware Version: 0.36.0

           Port:

             Status: No device connected

             Link Status: 0x7

             Speed: Up to 40 Gb/s x1

             Current Link Width: 0x1

             Link Controller Firmware Version: 0.36.0


        Thunderbolt Bus 0:


         Vendor Name: Apple Inc.

         Device Name: MacBook Pro

         UID: 0x0001CB20D8B9D500

         Route String: 0

         Firmware Version: 34.6

         Domain UUID: 64103528-C4A4-7152-A7A4-0D5842E3C469

         Port:

           Status: No device connected

           Link Status: 0x7

           Speed: Up to 40 Gb/s x1

           Current Link Width: 0x1

           Receptacle: 2

           Link Controller Firmware Version: 0.97.0

         Port:

           Status: Device connected

           Link Status: 0x2

           Speed: Up to 40 Gb/s x1

           Current Link Width: 0x2

           Receptacle: 1

           Cable Firmware Version: 0.9.0

           Link Controller Firmware Version: 0.97.0


          Core X:


           Vendor Name: Razer

           Device Name: Core X

           Vendor ID: 0x127

           Device ID: 0x1

           Device Revision: 0x1

           UID: 0x01277D4CE0782800

           Route String: 3

           Firmware Version: 33.1

           Port (Upstream):

             Status: Device connected

             Link Status: 0x2

             Speed: Up to 40 Gb/s x1

             Current Link Width: 0x2

             Cable Firmware Version: 0.9.0

             Link Controller Firmware Version: 0.35.0



    • wright_is

      In reply to wright_is:

      Wow, am I prescient or something. I wrote this, then a couple of hours later I listen to Security Now and Steve is talking about the Thunderclap exploit to the DMA weaknesses of Thunderbolt 3...

  5. BBoileau

    Hilarious, in a middle of the night kind of way.

  6. red.radar

    at this point I am just amused at the silliness of the naming. I hope they embrace it and just go nuts. We can’t take ourselves too seriously


    “Full speed”

    ”Hi speed”

    ”super speed”

    ”Uber speed”

    ”Light speed”

    ”fast speed”

    ” plaid”

    ”cha chow”

    “ Quick “. ....wait Qualcomm trademarked “quick” so we have to retract; next up

    “molasses “



    I still chuckle that fedora called one of their releases “beefy miracle” it still makes me smile


  7. truerock2

    So HDMI 2.1, DisplayPort 1.5, USB 4.0 and Thunderbolt 3 run at about 40Gb/s over USB-C.

    So, can we just settle on a single protocol?

    Having 4 protocols doing almost identical things is asinine.

    And get rid of Ethernet and Bluetooth, WiFi, GSM, TDMA, etc while we are at it.

    • mestiphal

      In reply to truerock2:

      I don't understand the down votes here, this is very true, when DisplayPort first came out there were still VGA monitors in the market. Having VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort is just dumb. standardizing on either HDMI or DP just makes more sense. Better yet, move that technology over to the USB-C port so everything and anything can plug with the same cable and you're golden.


      During high school I worked at a Best Buy, I remember Compact came out with the first all USB computer, it had no serial, parallel or PS2 ports.

  8. randallcorn

    As long as we have new emojis for the upgrade. Oh and we need Dark Mode for the new new newest USB EIEIO as well!

  9. mattbg

    It's never been as simple as "here's the new USB - ready to replace your old USB". My PC is a mix of USB 2, USB 3, USB 3.1 and one USB-C port. I don't see why the next step would be any different.


    There's only so much bandwidth available on a PC bus, and perhaps a limit of PCI-E lanes per controller. I'm not sure how Thunderbolt works in conjunction with concepts like USB hubs but I suspect it doesn't. It seems a bit risky to me to call something USB that does not behave like USB traditionally has.

  10. Shamir Dasgupta

    This just in... We will call it UB40, and every time you plug-in a device it will play red red whine...

  11. BeckoningEagle

    These are the upcoming names:


    Super-Duper High-Speed USB = USB4

    Super-Hyper-Super-Speed USB =USB4.1

    Super-Mega-Hyper-Speed USB=USB4.2

    USB Warp-Speed USB = USB5 - USB4, USB4.1, USB4.2 renamed to USB 4 Gen 1, USB 4 Gen 2, USB 4 Gen 2 x 2

    USB Warp Nine Edition = USB5.1

    USB Time Travel Edition = USB6, provides 1.21 gigawatts of power to connected devices, USB5 renamed to USB 5 Gen 1 and USB 5 Gen 2


    I think that's all for now

  12. davidblouin

    And more importantly, how many "old man yelling at the clouds" type of articles about USB4's internal name can Paul write before the technology is actually available in 2021, 100, 200, 500?


    The suspense is killing me....

  13. Daekar

    I hope they roll this standard out quickly. I have a single USB-C port on my PC and I have no idea what it does, but by the time I build another I don't want to have to wonder.

  14. glenn8878

    This will sort itself out like HDMI. Not really, but we hope. The hardware to use these cables are increasingly irrelevant. In most cases, we will still use USB A with USB 2.0 speeds. High speed transfers doesn't matter much except when duplicating disks every few years. HDMI can use new cables for 4K television, but it's likely no one will care if they can't get 4K streaming and people are increasingly not caring about 4K blu-ray, an outdated technology, in the streaming and on-demand era. USB4 mattered when PC is king. Not any more.

  15. provision l-3

    Okay, this is one of those things that I find far more grating than I really should but it totally tap dances on my last nerve when people misuse "begging the question".


    Begging the question is a logical fallacy where an argument's premises assume that the conclusion is true.


    Example: The reason everyone wants the new "Slap Me Silly Elmo" doll is because this is the hottest toy of the season.


    There is no begging the question here. There are questions raised though.



    • glenn8878

      In reply to provision l-3:

      But he didn't say "begging the question". He said "This begs a number of questions". So he asked a different question.

      • provision l-3

        In reply to glenn8878:

        Nope. "begging the question" = "begs the question" or as Paul put "begs a number of questions". He meant "raises a number of questions".


        www quickanddirtytips com/education/grammar/begs-the-question

        • BeckoningEagle

          In reply to provision l-3:

          You are correct that it is the wrong usage. However, you should take into account the second page of the article you linked. The section: Common Usage Versus Established Meaning and the link https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-do-words-get-in-the-dictionary.


          I just hope "should of" and "could care less" never make it into a dictionary , those two are my big pet peeves.

          • provision l-3

            In reply to BeckoningEagle:

            I actually used that article specifically because of the paragraph you are talking about. The author argues that in this case we should stick to the formal definition.


            "There's no hole in the English language that needs to be filled, so there's no reason to use begs the question improperly."



        • glenn8878

          In reply to provision l-3:

          Of course, he meant it raises a number of questions. Begs still has that meaning if you can remove the "begs the question" expression from confusion.


          Begs means "ask (someone) earnestly or humbly for something."


          If you know what he said without having to rely on an expression that few people actually use correctly, then we don't have to keep going back to beating a dead horse.

          • provision l-3

            In reply to glenn8878:

            I see where this is getting confused. "Begs the Question" or "Begging the Question" are not expressions or colloquialism like say "beat a dead horse".


            It is the name of a logical fallacy much like Ad hominem, Appeal to Nature and Straw Man are all names of fallacies and they all have specific definitions. If a person were to take a Logic class it would be one of the many they were taught.

  16. jchampeau

    The way tech companies name things is often a head-scratcher. Consider also:


    Surface Pro

    Surface Pro 2

    Surface Pro 3

    Surface Pro 4

    Surface Pro (2017)

    Surface Pro 6

    • karlinhigh

      In reply to jchampeau:

      If software has new versions released every year with few changes (say, QuickBooks) then I really like having years for version numbers. If software is released infrequently, and each version is a whole 'nother world, then I like incremental numbers better.

  17. simont

    Lets hope that they also set a standard icon that manafacturers can put next to the port so we know its a USB4. Something like maybe a 4 :)

  18. YouWereWarned

    Only thing more opaque than USB 3.x is Charmin toilet paper: UltraStrong, Mega, Sensitive, UltraGentle, Giant, SuperMega, UltraMega, Strong, Essentials, UltraSoft, Giant, Double, and the mythical Regular. Surely there are others...

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